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As the Pandemic Drags on, More People Are Smoking More Weed

For Anthony*, business has never been better. In the last few months, he’s moved more weed than ever before, and the orders are still flooding in. In fact, demand is so high that he’s having trouble keeping up.

“I’ve been overflowing with weed requests,” he tells VICE News. “Deliveries have been so busy to the point where I’m flat out on the days that I can work.”

Since the introduction of stage four lockdown on the Australian state of Victoria—which has seen the introduction of an 8 PM curfew and barred people from leaving their homes longer than an hour—Anthony only has a small window to make deliveries. For Anthony’s customers, this means that they’re unable to purchase as frequently as before. So, they’re buying larger amounts.

“If I have to put a number on it, I’d say people were buying 15 to 20 percent more,” he says. “People who buy below a quarter ounce are buying two or three grams more than usual.”

Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in Australia. Annually, one in eight people use it, and according to a recent study by the University of New South Wales’ National Drug and Research Centre (NDARC), this number has only grown in recent months.

“Specifically, 57 percent of those who had recently consumed cannabis had increased use since March,” Dr Amy Peacock, Lead for Drug Trends at NDARC tells VICE over email.

The study, which aims to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug habits, has found that amongst participants, 82 percent have used cannabis in the last few months. It was widely preferred over other drugs such as MDMA and alcohol, with 41 percent of respondents reporting it as their intoxicant of choice.

As to why these numbers were rising, both Dr Peacock and Anthony are in agreement: boredom.

“The demand has definitely gone up as people are just bored and looking for ways to kill the time,” Anthony says.

But Australia is not alone. Similar patterns have been seen internationally, and particularly in the US, where the cannabis industry is reporting massive booms in sales, and across the Netherlands, where lockdowns have created block-long queues forming outside cannabis cafes.

According to Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director of addiction education centre Turning Point, it isn’t boredom alone that’s driving an uptick in weed consumption. He points out that travel restrictions and limited supplies have left many addicts unable to access their preferred narcotics. This means they’re now finding other alternatives.

“What we’ve seen over time is that when drugs like methamphetamines and heroin have reduced supply, the prices of those have gone up considerably. What ends up happening is this transition from people because alcohol and cannabis are so readily available,” he explains.

But this shift towards cannabis has the potential to place further pressure on a market that’s already struggling.

“With the borders closed, nothing’s coming in or out, which is reducing how much weed is around,” says Sean*, another dealer. “It’s starting to get harder to get bulk amounts so it’s showing that there aren’t as many people growing in Victoria as first thought.”

The difficulty navigating drug drop-offs, supply chain interruptions and reduced stock from local growers means that market prices have already begun to rise.

As Australia heads into the grow season, it’s unknown what this means for the weed market. But according to Sean, eventually the states’ penchant for pot will catch up with it.

“If we were to stay in lockdown another 12 months it would fuck the drug trade in Victoria pretty hard,” he predicted. “We would probably start paying more and seeing bud less.”

*Names have been changed for obvious reasons

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Dealers are struggling to keep up, and particularly in Australia.

What Happens If You Smoke Marijuana?

Reactions with pot can vary widely

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Sean Gallup Collection / Getty Images News

The reaction you may have when trying marijuana can vary dramatically based on many factors.   Some people report not feeling anything at all when they smoke marijuana. In other cases, people report feeling relaxed or “high.”

Some people who use marijuana report having sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts and that might be caused by trying a higher potency marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  

Research also shows that regular use of marijuana is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety and a loss of motivation or drive.   You may feel “dopey” on the drug, which is when you begin to lose interest in activities that you might have previously enjoyed or you may lose the ability to grasp concepts easily.

Short-Term Discomforts of Using Weed

The effects of using marijuana can be unpredictable, especially when it is mixed with other drugs, research shows. You may feel relaxed on the drug, but other things you might not be expecting with pot use can include rapid heart rate and other unpleasantries.  

  • Dry mouth
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Accelerated heart rate

Short-Term Hazards

As with any drug or substance that can alter perception, logic and usual behavior, there are several short-term hazards of using marijuana from impairing driving abilities to memory loss.  

  • Learning difficulties
  • Lack of attention and focus
  • Poor driving skills
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty in thinking

Long-Term Hazards

Any drug that is taken over a prolonged period of time can have an effect on your health. Several of the physical barriers that can occur range from infertility problems to overall brain functions.  

  • An increased risk of developing lung, head, and neck cancers
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decreased sperm count in men
  • Irregular menstruation in women
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heightened risk of infections, especially the lungs
  • Poor short-term memory recall
  • Inability to shift attention normally
  • Inability to understand complex information​

Unpredictable Reactions

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana can affect each person differently according to their own body chemistry and the type of pot used.   Some people can use weed and never have any negative reactions while others may try it and get entirely freaked out by the experience.

  • Your biology (genetic makeup)
  • Marijuana’s strength (amount of active ingredient THC)
  • Previous experience with the drug
  • How it’s taken (smoked versus ingested)
  • Whether alcohol or other drugs are taken too​

Not Your Grandfather’s Pot

Studies have found that the marijuana available today is much different in terms of potency compared to what was generally available in the 1960s when the use of the drug became widespread in the United States.  

Today’s strains of the plant contain much more of the active ingredient in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, researchers say.   That makes today’s weed much more potent than that smoked by the hippies and flower children of the Woodstock generation.

How marijuana affects the individual user depends on many different factors, including body chemistry and the potency of the drug.